Making Room for Sleep: The Relevance of Sleep to Psychology and the Rationale for Development of Preventative Sleep Education Programs for Children and Adolescents in the Community

Article excerpt

Abstract

Sleep plays a key role in the way that people think, feel, and behave and is a component of each of these domains. A substantial body of evidence indicates that an appropriate level of sleep is necessary for optimization of physical, cognitive, and emotional functioning, which are key domains of healthy adjustment and are at the heart of the science and the practice of psychology. Conversely, fatigue and insufficient sleep negatively affect these life domains, each of which must function well to ensure optimal development. However, a considerable proportion of children and adolescents do not achieve adequate sleep, in terms of either quantity or quality. Appropriate use of the knowledge regarding the importance of sleep for optimization of physical, cognitive, and emotional functioning may significantly improve youth performance and health. Despite this need for optimal sleep health, extensive translation of available knowledge for the benefit of Canadian youth is currently lacking. This is important, because it is likely that a key means of using existing information to improve the health and success of children is being overlooked. The objectives of this article are therefore to discuss the relevance of sleep to psychology, to provide information regarding sleep and its impact on daytime functioning and development, and to discuss the rational for developing preventative sleep education programs, as well as major barriers to effective sleep education and strategies that can be used to overcome such problems.

Keywords: sleep, prevention, children, adolescents, community, development

In the present article, I first discuss the relevance of sleep to psychology. I next provide information regarding sleep and its impact on daytime functioning and development. I then discuss the rational for developing preventative sleep education programs. Finally, I discuss the major barriers to effective sleep education and strategies that can be used to overcome such problems; I include examples of the successful use of such strategies to facilitate healthy sleep education.

Why Is Sleep Relevant to Psychology?

Psychology is defined in the Concise Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica to be a "Scientific discipline that studies mental processes and behaviour in humans and other animals. [:] 'the study of the mind'" ("psychology," 2013). The Canadian Psychological Association (CPA; n.d., para. 2) states that "Psychologists engage in research, practice and teaching across a wide range of topics having to do with how people think, feel and behave".

Sleep plays a key role in the way that people think, feel, and behave and is a component of all of the psychological domains mentioned previously. A substantial body of evidence indicates that an appropriate level of sleep is necessary for optimization of physical (Hasler et al., 2004; Nixon et al., 2008), cognitive (Alhola & Polo-Kantola, 2007; Durmer & Dinges, 2005; Nilsson et al., 2005; Wimmer, Hoffmann, Bonato, & Moffitt, 1992), and emotional functioning (Gregory & Sadeh, 2012), which are key domains of healthy adjustment and are at the heart of the science and the practice of psychology. Study of sleep is interdisciplinary in nature and overlaps with several domains of psychology, including neuroscience, developmental psychology, clinical child psychology educational and school psychology, and health psychology.

Sleep deprivation is very prevalent in children at all stages of development, from infancy to late adolescence. Sizable proportions of children and adolescents obtain less sleep than they need and are thus chronically sleep-deprived (National Sleep Foundation, 2006; Spilsbury et al., 2004). Because the significance of chronic sleep insufficiency is underrecognized in terms of the influence thereof on the mental and physical health of youth, I will focus below on pediatric sleep, that is, sleep in children and adolescents. …